All three are popular, but researchers put them head-to-head in this study to see which led to the best results.

Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D.
January 28, 2020

With how many weight-loss diets there are these days, it can be hard to tell fact from fiction. Researchers in New Zealand decided to take three popular diets and put them to the test. The Mediterranean diet, intermittent fasting and the paleo diet were compared for their effect on weight loss, blood pressure and more. Read on to see how they stack up.

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The Science

A study recently published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked to sort out what diet is most conducive to weight loss. They recruited 250 healthy, overweight adults, mostly women, who were on average 44 years old. As a part of the study, people got to choose which diet (Mediterranean, paleo or intermittent fasting) that they would follow for the next 12 months of their weight loss journey. Once they identified the diet they wanted to try, they met with a registered dietitian and a doctor for in-depth training on how to work the diet into their life. The Mediterranean diet focused mostly on plant foods, fish and whole grains, while limiting red meat and processed grains. Intermittent fasting was done in a pattern of five days unrestricted, two days on a modified fast (commonly called 5:2). Lastly, the modified paleo diet had a focus on meat, fish and healthy fats, with some legumes, fruits and vegetables, and limited grains and processed grains. For the next 12 months, they recorded their dietary intake and had periodic check-ups to record their weight, body fat percentage, blood pressure and hemoglobin A1C (a blood test which measures blood sugar over time and is used to diagnose and watch the progression of diabetes).

Related: Why the Mediterranean Diet Is So Healthy

What They Found

After 12 months, they checked in to see how the participants on each of the diets were doing. The highest percentage of people were able to stick to the Mediterranean diet (57% of those who started the study on it), followed by intermittent fasting (54%) and paleo (35%). The greatest weight loss was seen in the intermittent fasting group, at an average loss of 8 pound. The Mediterranean diet was close behind, with people losing 6 pounds on average, and paleo dieters lost closer to 4 pounds. Due to the substantial amount of people who dropped out of the study, the researchers noted that their weight loss data could be skewed by a few pounds in each category. Beyond exclusively weight loss, the Mediterranean boasted some other impressive health benefits. Mediterranean dieters dropped their systolic blood pressure by 6 points and reduced their hemoglobin A1C, which measures someone's risk for developing diabetes. Intermittent fasters also saw slight drops in blood pressure, but did not have the same protective benefits from diabetes that the Mediterranean diet did.

Photo: Getty Images/guvendemir

Keep Reading: 5 Ways to Help Your Diet Become a Way of Life

What It Means

Though the people who were following intermittent fasting lost slightly more weight (which could be skewed), those following a Mediterranean diet had more health benefits beyond weight loss alone. Reducing your blood pressure or A1C can help slash your risk for chronic illness, similar to losing weight. Additionally, the Mediterranean diet was the least restrictive diet to follow.

However, the best diet for you is the one that fits your lifestyle well enough that you can stick to it. For many, trying to fast two days a week or become restrictive in their food choices is difficult to sustain. The Mediterranean diet is a great option due to its flexibility and effectiveness. It's one of the reasons that the Mediterranean diet is so highly recommended by health experts (here's how to get started on the Mediterranean diet)

Bottom Line

Luckily for us all, there are several eating patterns that can help you lead a healthy life. The biggest hurdle for most of us is sticking to any specific diet, especially if it's restrictive. If you are looking at short-term weight loss, all of these ways of eating may offer some benefits. The Mediterranean diet goes above and beyond with other health benefits, including improved blood pressure and diabetes control. It was also the diet that most people in the study were able to stick with over the course of a year.

Your diet should fit into your life without feeling like a major chore. Sticking to whole, minimally processed foods and including ample fruits and vegetables is a great, proven way to get started on any weight loss diet.

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